This Wednesday: Eight tips for how to behave yourself — from 1500-ish.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Eight tips for how to behave yourself — from Erasmus, around 1500.

Studying happiness has shown me that there are very few new truths out there.

It’s like dieting. New diet books hit the shelves every day, but we know that the real secret to staying slim is to eat better (mostly plants), eat less, and exercise more.

Likewise, the keys to leading a happy life have been around for a long time. I get a big kick out of uncovering “tips lists” from the past — Sydney Smith’s tips for cheering yourself up from 1820, Francis Bacon’s tips for how to be happy from 1625, Lord Chesterfield’s tips for pleasing in society from 1774.

In De Civilitate, Erasmus gave eight tips about how to behave yourself around other people. He wrote this list around 1500 A.D., and his advice has a long shelf life.

According to Erasmus, you should not…
1. gossip
2. tell unkind stories
3. boast
4. indulge in self-display
5. seek to defeat others in argument
6. interrupt people when they tell a story
7. be too inquisitive

You should…
8. be discreet about your own thoughts and actions

Every day, when I fill out my resolutions chart, I review my Twelve Commandments (see left column), and I’ve added Erasmus’s list as an appendix.

I’ve been very surprised by the effectiveness of reviewing a list of goals. It turns out that re-reading admonitions like “Don’t interrupt people” and “Don’t tell unkind stories” day after day does, in fact, help me to act better.

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Safari readers — I think I found the missing link! If the problem is fixed, thanks so much to everyone who wrote me with such helpful, specific advice.

One of my Secrets of Adulthood is “It’s okay to ask for help,” and zoikes, it really does work! (Assuming, of course, that the problem is in fact fixed. If not, I’ll keep trying)

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If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

Safari readers: I share your pain. And I’m working on it.

Hi, all you annoyed Safari readers out there.

I know that the text of the posts looks underlined, and that you can’t post comments. I’m trying to fix the problem.

One reader told me that the problem disappeared when she updated her Safari, which made me think that this was a Typepad problem.

Well, I’m still going back and forth with Typepad, but at least initially, they’re suggesting that it may be some mistake somewhere on the blog.

I think that the people who see the problem can’t post. However, if you could take one second to email me [grubin [at] gretchenrubin [[dot]] [com]] to let me know if there is a post at which the problem appears, I can look there at that first affected post to see if I can spot a problem.

I ran the “Markup Validation Service,” which uncovered 173 errors! I can’t understand them, let alone fix them.

Also, if you have any general advice for a very un-tech-savvy person about how to fix this, I’d appreciate it VERY MUCH.

And please try to keep reading, despite the underlining…

In which I am filled with happiness at the sight of a store, Tender Buttons, in my neighborhood.

The other day, I happened to walk down 62nd Street near Lexington Avenue and passed by a little store, Tender Buttons. It’s a shop that sells nothing but – you guessed it – buttons.

The funny thing is that I frequently walk very close to the store, because it’s on my way to my gym, but I hadn’t walked down this particular block for years, apparently.

I was instantly flooded with happy memories. When I was growing up in Kansas City, my mother told me about visiting Tender Buttons on a trip to New York.

My mother has an extraordinary appreciation for beautiful and fine objects, and a real sense of style, so she was enthralled by this best-of-buttons store.

A few years later, when I came to New York with my parents, my mother and I made a return trip to the store. I felt very cultured that I picked up the reference to Gertrude Stein.

Tender Buttons represented everything that I still love most about New York City – the atmosphere of limitless possibility, the sense that lovely and quirky places are around every corner, the hope that people can make a good living pursuing an idiosyncratic passion.

The store is still there, but I’d forgotten about it – and it has been right in my neighborhood, this whole time. When I found it, I didn’t buy any buttons; I didn’t even go inside. Nevertheless, it made me very happy to re-discover it.

It’s funny what we remember about other people. I’m sure my mother has no recollection of telling me about Tender Buttons, or shopping there with me, and yet the mere sight of the store sign flooded me with tender thoughts of her.

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PsyBlog promises to help you “study scientific psychology the easy way.” If you love a good psychology study — and goodness knows, I do — then this is a site you should check out. It’s crammed with interesting material.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

One way to try to figure out what someone REALLY thinks.

I’m a big fan of the blog Marginal Revolution, so I was really looking forward to reading Tyler Cowen’s book, Discover Your Inner Economist: Using Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist.

And I wasn’t disappointed. This is just the kind of book I love, with lots of insights into human nature and explanations of why people (including me) behave the way they do.

Several sections jumped out at me, but one in particular was unusually compelling – about how to get people to reveal their true opinions.

As I’ve discussed in an earlier post, Daniel Gilbert’s fascinating book, Stumbling on Happiness, is all about “affective forecasting.” He explains how people make predictions about what will make them happy in the future, and why they tend sometimes to make mistakes. Say, by spending $300 on a big tattoo today, and ten years later, paying $6,000 to get it taken off.

Gilbert argues that the most effective way to predict what’s likely to make you happy in the future is to ask someone who is having that experience at the moment. For example, before signing up to work in a law firm, you’d ask people who are associates at law firms whether they like their jobs (the more similar such surrogates are to you, the more helpful their information is likely to be).

Gilbert maintains that although we all feel very idiosyncratic, we’re much more alike in our preferences than we imagine—so the experience of other people is the best guide to follow.

But sometimes when we ask an important question, we know that people might be reluctant to give a true opinion. Maybe they’re worried about angering someone else, or appearing unsophisticated, or maybe they feel uncomfortable with what they think.

Tyler Cowen made an observation that I think is absolutely fascinating, and one that provides a possible solution to this non-disclosure problem. He writes:

To get a person’s real opinion, ask what she thinks everyone else believes…If people truly hold a particular belief, they are more likely to think that others agree or have had similar experiences. For instance, if a man has had more than thirty sexual partners, he will more likely think that such behavior is common. After all, his life is one ‘data point,’ and that data point presumably weighs heavily in his mind…Furthermore the man with more than thirty partners probably knows a higher percentage of other people with thirty partners or more. This will further encourage him to make a high estimate of how many partners other people have had…
[People] tend to assume that other people have had life histories at least somewhat similar to their own. When we talk about other people, we are often talking about ourselves, whether we know it ourselves.

So imagine that you’re considering sending your children to a particular summer camp. Asking your friend, “Are most families pleased with the camp experience?” instead of asking, “Were you pleased with the camp?” might elicit a better answer.

Or maybe you’re considering going to a particular doctor. A person might not want personally to express disloyalty, but if you said, “How do most patients feel about that doctor’s office?” you might hear more.

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A reader emailed me to say that, on the topic of making lists for keeping resolutions or working towards goals, he recommended a post on the blog LiteMind. If you’re the kind of person who benefits from this kind of exercise (and if you are, you know it, and are itching to find another excuse to make a list!), check it out.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.

If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

This Sunday: a happiness quotation from Benjamin Franklin.

“A good conscience is a continual Christmas.” –Benjamin Franklin

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If you like making lists and setting out your resolutions, take a look at Your 100 Things. This site organizes goals into 16 categories — you can also see other people’s goals. I have my own resolution charts that keep me plenty busy (email me at grubin [at] gretchenrubin [dot] [com] if you’d like to take a look, for inspiration) but this looks like another great way to think through and commit to goals.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.